THE MUSIC IN GEORGE’S HEAD Release! (+ Giveaways)

Big news! My new picture book, THE MUSIC IN GEORGE’S HEAD: GEORGE GERSHWIN CREATES RHAPSODY IN BLUE, releases from Calkins Creek today. George Gershwin’s birthday is also this month (Sept. 26), so I’m glad you stopped by to celebrate this incredible composer/pianist. You can also find out where the idea for this story came from, read a wonderful interview with the fabulous illustrator Stacy Innerst, and toss your name in the hat for two fun giveaways (details below!)

Music George Cover

So, the idea for this book suddenly appeared years ago (on the Fourth of July) when I was watching a fireworks show on my local PBS channel. During the program, Gershwin’s famous Rhapsody in Blue was playing in the background as the commentator shared interesting facts about this well-known, iconic tune. And before I knew it, I was scribbling down Gershwin facts on a scrap of paper, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. Then overnight, a story idea began percolating in my mind.

Nearly a year later (after a boatload of research, interviews with a music PhD and the Music Specialist at the Library of Congress George & Ira Gershwin Collection, and 47 revisions) I finally sent Gershwin’s story out into the publishing world. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find the perfect home–Calkins Creek.


George Gershwin

And then Calkins found the perfect illustrator, Stacy Innerst. It was very exciting to see Stacy bring Gershwin’s story to life in a unique and colorful way. So after admiring Stacy’s work for a long time, I’m excited to ask him a few questions about his thoughts on the book.

I was thrilled when I found out you’d agreed to illustrate THE MUSIC IN GEORGE’S HEAD as I’ve been a big fan of your work for years. I’m curious, what attracted you to accept this book project?

Thank you! There was absolutely no hesitation when I read your manuscript for GEORGE. I especially liked that your story took him from childhood to adult and that I’d have the opportunity to depict an entire inspired life in a few pages. I grew up with Gershwin often being played in my house… My mother used to play Rhapsody in Blue on the piano while my brother sat on either side of her on the bench, so that music has always had a special association for me. I knew I’d love the project.
I’ve done other musically-themed books in the past and music has been a favorite subject of mine to illustrate.


The variety of blue tones in your illustrations are unique and stunning. I also adore your handwritten words sprinkled throughout the text. How did you come up with these clever design elements?

I did a lot of image research when I started the project and it kept coming back to blue. I watched the Rhapsody in Blue Fantasia film many times and looked at album covers and posters and paintings from the era and I knew that I had to limit the color pallet in that way. My original thought was to do the illustrations as those electric blue cyanotypes but I settled on painting them in acrylic, mainly with Prussian blue and raw umber to give a sense of the era.

The art director, Barbara Grzeslo, and I discussed using handwritten text for the book as I had done it in my previous book for Calkins Creek and we liked the results. I was also inspired by the way Gershwin’s handwriting looked on his musical scores. Barbara really pushed me to do much more with the handwritten passages throughout the book.

Did you encounter any special research challenges while illustrating this historical, nonfiction title?

I did. Gershwin’s compositions were inspired by a variety of forms of music including jazz, ragtime and the blues, all influenced by African American musicians. He used to hear Jazz and Blues spilling out of the Harlem clubs in his youth. His bandmates at the time of the debut performance of “Rhapsody” were all white, however. I wanted the scenes to be as accurate as possible, but there was such a color barrier in that era that I chose to depict the musicians as amalgamations of some of the African American musicians that actually inspired the music, rather than as an all white band. I think George would’ve approved.


As an author, it’s always exciting for me to watch the illustrator’s creative journey as rough sketches become finished sketches, and then colorful final art. Would you care to share photos of the fascinating progression of one spread?

Of course! Here is the thumbnail–to sketch– to finished painting process of the swirling rhapsody spread from the book. I think it’s my favorite spread because it encapsulates the music for me.                                                                                                       Thumbnail


Final Illustration

I’m very thankful Stacy shared his creative vision and talent for this book. I adore everything about his fabulous illustrations, and it seems the book reviewers do too!

      Kirkus Reviews, starred review — “Innerst’s acrylic-on-paper compositions, in a striking palette of indigo, sepia, and white, whimsically evoke both the period and the composer’s creativity…. Bravo!”  
      Booklist, starred review —The swirling text wraps around the inventive (and mostly blue) art, both literally and figuratively, capturing the time period as well as the dazzling musical piece.” Innerst’s acrylic-on-paper compositions, in a striking palette of indigo, sepia, and white, whimsically evoke both the period and the composer’s creativity…. Bravo!” 
      School Library Journal, starred review — Innerst’s acrylic spreads are almost entirely done in blue and gray tones, with broad brushstrokes, scanned textiles, and paper adding texture; each scene is striking.” 


***Giveaways Info.***

Two winners will be randomly selected from those who leave a comment on this post.

One winner will receive an autographed copy of the book plus a book poster with a Teacher’s Guide on the back.

The second winner will get a live Skype Author Q & A visit for a classroom (*to enter the Skype visit giveaway, please provide school name, teacher, and grade in your comment.)

PS. If you’d like to find out more about my writing/research on this book, I did an interview for Deborah Kalb’s lovely blog today.

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. I love it already! And thanks for telling the story behind it, Suzanne. Can’t wait to read it.

  2. Happy book birthday! Congratulations, it looks beautiful??

  3. This looks awesome! Congratulations!

  4. Interesting to read how this book came about. Thank you!

  5. I have to see the rest of this book! That one finished shot is absolutely gorgeous! And it sounds wonderful, Suzanne. Congrats!

  6. Sounds like a fascinating book! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  7. As a lover of music & the written word, this book speaks to me! Wow!

  8. Bringing this up to the top of my list! It looks lovely!

  9. I love picture book biographies and Calkins Creek has some great ones. I am looking forward to reading yours.

  10. I love his music! Can’t wait to read the book! Thanks!

  11. Gershwin was a musical genius. Thanks for sharing his story with future generations.

  12. Lindsay Hanson Metcalf

    This book looks as lovely as Rhapsody sounds. And thanks for inspiring my morning writing soundtrack. 🙂

  13. What a great idea for a picture book biography – congrats!

  14. Congrats! Thanks for sharing!

  15. What a beautiful and informative biography supported by extensive research! Well done. I hope you sell thousands of books!

  16. Congratulations! Look forward to seeing this book!

  17. I need to see this!

    I would love to win the Skype visit for my daughter’s classroom (I am the volunteer media specialist for her class): Kenny Community School in Minneapolis, Megan Hardesty’s 1st grade class.

  18. Congratulations, Suzanne & Stacy–this looks gorgeous! Loved hearing a bit about the process for both of you, and what fabulous reviews. Bravo!

  19. Happy book birthday! And thanks for the fascinating interview. I can’t wait to read the whole book!

  20. Love the way the soaring, swirling keyboards surround your beautiful text. Congratulations Suzanne and Stacy!

  21. I have a fondness for biographies about composers and musicians and this one stands out for it’s beautiful story and illustrations. I can’t wait to check it out at the library.
    I would love to win a Skype visit for our local school, Leewood K-8, in Miami, FL, for the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade classes that visit Leewood’s library and librarian, Karen Turelli.

  22. Great interview! I would love to win the Skype visit for my daughter’s class. Hillsdale Elementary in Meridian Idaho. 5th Grade, Mrs. Heathcock.

  23. Congratulations, Suzanne and Stacy. The book about fantastic George sounds fantastic. I’m looking forward to reading this wonderful new story.

  24. I can’t wait to learn the story behind this great piece of music. It looks amazing!

  25. One of my favorite composers. Looking forward to reading your book!

  26. LOVE Gershwin — what a fabulous subject! Thanks for sharing!

  27. Wow! I can’t wait to see these illustrations in person. I’m so excited for both of you and congratulations on the fabulous reviews!

    Jenks Southeast Elementary School, Tulsa, OK, 4th grade, Dina McClellan

  28. Sounds like an amazing book!

  29. Congratulations! I love nonfiction, especially biographies. Can’t wait to read this one!

  30. This looks delightful. I love, love, love all those blues. And browns.

  31. This book looks fabulous! Congratulations!

  32. The rhythm of Gershwin’s music swirls around on each page! What a lovely book!

  33. This looks like a lovely book. Thanks for the post and the chance to win.

  34. Absolutely stunning! Congratulations to you both!

  35. I can hardly wait to hold this book in my hands and add it to my picture book library! It looks and sounds wonderful! I love picture books made by creatives about creative process and living a creative life!

  36. I am TOTALLY fascinated by this! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Thanks so much!

  37. Thanks for writing such a beautiful book, Suzanne!

  38. So beautiful–can’t wait to read this one. Congrats on all the fabulous reviews!

  39. Margaret Flint Suter

    I am going from here to my e-mail to ask my indie bookseller to get two copies, one for me and one for my grandchildren! Love Gershwin’s music, have played it for many years, even on vinyl!! The art looks wonderful and am looking forward to reading your story! Congratulations!

  40. Happy book birthday, Suzanne. I love how you were inspired to write it. And the illustrations look gorgeous. Definitely a must read!

  41. I’ll be looking to get my hands on this book. It sounds interesting and looks beautiful!

  42. Just put this on my library list. I can’t wait to read this.

  43. As a fan of Public Broadcast System, I love haring that your idea came from the PBS channel. I look forward to reading this wonderful book.

    • It seems book ideas are everywhere, and PBS is a great place to find them. Actually, your comments reminds me I saw a PBS documentary years ago about a sports subject I thought would make for a great pb. Now if I could only find the time to research and write it!

  44. This book looks terrific. Congrats!

  45. Thanks for sharing the creative process!

  46. Congratulations! What a beautiful book. I can’t wait to read it.

  47. Suzanne, what fun to read about how you were “drawn” into writing this wonderful bio. I am interested, also, because I have heard the common advice that a cradle-to-grave biography is not what editors/agents look for, so i am very thrilled to use GEORGE for a mentor text study. The look into your amazing illustrator partner’s process is very important for me as a writer only. I am never sure how many art notes to include. TY for this post and the giveaway opportunity. Stacy’s art fits this project perfectly.

    • HI Kathy, Thanks for your encouraging comments. I try to look for the most important events I want to share with readers as I determine how much of the subject’s life to include in story. Each subject is different with their own unique life events, so the timespan I cover, and the amount of details, varies greatly with each book. As far as art notes, I only include them if I think the art should share something important to the story which is not conveyed in the text, and that isn’t very often. Best of luck, and hope you enjoy reading GEORGE!

  48. You had me at the title, Suzanne! And I love posts where we get the inside peek at production…especially from the illustrator’s desk…wonderful post…thank you so much!

  49. Gorgeous book & wonderful interview. Love the blue!

  50. Happy Book Birthday, Suzanne and Stacy! It was so nice to hear the inspiration and work behind the story. Love the blue tones throughout the illustrations!

  51. Oh my goodness! This sounds like an amazing book. I can’t wait to read it! Congratulations on getting this amazing story published!

  52. Can’t wait to read…looks interesting!

  53. I love the illustrations, and I’m always looking for beautiful, music-themed picture books for the beloved music teachers in my life.

  54. What a lovely book and such an informative post! Can’t wait to get this book!

  55. I really enjoyed reading this post (of course I’m partial:) and truly think the whimsy of the text and images will inspire many kids.

  56. Happy book birthday, Suzanne!! I love the cover so much, and am really looking forward to reading this one :). Congrats!

  57. I am blown away by this!

    Congratulations. 🙂

  58. LOVE Rhapsody in Blue!! And, I’m a big supporter of getting kids into music anyway I can. Thanks for this post!

  59. HUGE congrats, Suzanne!! This book looks so amazing, and I can’t wait to get it. I loved your interview with Stacy, and thank you both so much for sharing.

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